It started with more of a whimper than a bang. As I do most nights, I woke up last Thursday -- actually Friday morning, around 2 am, and headed for my bathroom, stubbing my toes stumbling over shoes and the wastebasket when I realized the power was off. For my friend Pam it definitely started with a bang -- the transformer in front of her house blew up, shooting flames into the night sky -- right above where her 78 year old father was sleeping peacefully n his RV.
Realizing there was little to be done at 2 am, and mindful of the fact that I was supposed to be at an Exeter Health Board Meeting at 8 am, I went back to sleep. By 6 am, my bedroom was getting cold, so I decided to face the day. <br>Since we lose power on a regular basis out here on Durham Point, I bought a generator a few years ago and have it wired straight into my house. Normally, the moment it goes on, I have a working furnace (heat & hot water), fridge, and well pump for running water, plus power to my office, and lights in one bathroom, the kitchen/den and my closet.
The first sign that this wasn't an ordinary storm came from a 7 am call from Exeter Health saying that the hospital was without power and the meeting was cancelled. The second indication came when I walked out my front door and realized that I'd be better off with skates than boots.
We got the generator going for all of about 30 seconds and then it refused to start again. (Lesson #1,make sure that the gas line is open and the generator plugged into the house first) Not ready to panic yet, I called some of my neighbors and got no answer. Everyone was either still asleep or not answering their phones.
Of course my wonderful new Sansa radio and MP3 player wasn't charged up, nor was my phone (lesson #2, plug phone & radio when they're predicting a major storm) but the radio lasted long enough to tell me that 600,000 people were in the same boat.
Job #1 was coffee, so I fired up the gas stove and got some water boiling. Of course my coffee snobbery meant that there wasn't a ground coffee bean anywhere in the house.(Lesson #3 -- keep some ground coffee in the freezer) Fortunately, my business partner in Dubai had given me some Lebanese coffee during my last trip - -salvation! I cooked it up and shortly, with large amounts of caffeine now coursing thru my veins, I brought in more wood, stoked up the wood stove and checked my phone for email and messages. (Lesson #4 -- be thankful you have a G1 Phone so even without an internet connection, you can still check email and Twitter.)
I quickly learned the extent of the outage from Twitter, identifying friends from one end of New England to the other without power. The irony was that my office, 2 1/2 hours north, was fine -- and Berlin schools were the only ones in the state that weren't closed.
Around 10, one of my tenants got the generator going but we quickly realized that there was barely enough gas in the 10 gas cans on the farm to keep it going for more than a minute or two. (Lesson #5 -- fill up gas cans BEFORE the storm). Headed to downtown Durham with 6 empty gas cans, but of course all stations were dark, powerless like the rest of us.
With help from Twitter and a friend in Dover, I found an open gas station in Newington where an accident had already taken place amoung the 24 cars crowding the station. It took an hour but by 1 pm (12 hours after the power went out) I was back at the farm with a full generator, phone & radio charging, worrying about the other 2 buildings on the property. Got a second generator going to power the furnace in the duplex next door -- essentially leaving the cabin on the water to its fate. My plan had been to run some errands, but even at 2 pm most grocery stores and department stores were still closed.
By 5 pm I was working on a dinner of pasta with scallops, a salad and parsnip flan. Not bad for camping out. Even got out the sewing machine and finished some new curtains for the Berlin bathroom.
My friend Edie showed up after her husband volunteered to man the wood stove while she got a good night sleep (yes, he really IS that sweet). My cousin Amy arrived after a 7 hours trip from New York, and the three of us hung out and ate scallops and drank wine and worried about our friends who weren't as fortunate.
By Saturday, I was ready for some normalcy so managed to head out for a run, dodging downed power lines along the way. Favorite site was the chain saw stuck in a nearly downeed tree about 20 feet off the ground. Got most of my errands done, including heading out to the woods and chopping down my Christmas tree. We dragged it in and set it up while there was still daylight. Best "DUH" moment was when I started to curse the fact that none of the numerous strings of lights left over from last year seemed to work :) forgetting that there were only about 3 live outlets in the house and the one I was trying them from wasn't one of them.
In the mean time, my cousin Amy the gourmet chef, was searing the rack of lamb in the wood stove, and whipping up pasta, a salad and crispy brussel sprouts. I got the Christmas tree lights on, just as my friend Pam arrived to help decorate so we stuck to the family tradition, which holds that you can't properly decoarte a tree without champagne. We dined by candlelight in front of a roaring fire and a semi-dressed Christmas tree -- it was hardly the survivor moment that most of our friends were experiencing. But toughing it out is a long standing New Hampshire tradition, and so most of my friends stayed home to stoke their wood stoves, worrying about frozen pipes.
Sunday morning brought home the reality of misery that most Granite staters were now facing -- a third day of freezing in the dark. Met my girlfriends for our weekly "walkies" and cruised our usual route, again dodging downed power lines everywhere. While UNH campus and downtowan businesses had power, no one else did. We ran into many very cold and miserable people, now running out of wood, pipes frozen despite all their efforts, still trying to decide whether to head for shelter or sneak onto campus for a shower or head to relatives.
There was a fair amount of kvetching about the fact that UNH students had showers but local taxpaying residents did not, so I emailed a suggestion to UNH's president, Dr. Mark Huddleston, that he open the sports facilities to residents so they could at least take a hot shower.In one of the brighter notes of the morning, within seconds he responded that he was working on it, and within hours, the faciliities were open and residents were notified that they could get a hot meal and a hot shower on campus.
In the mean time, Frank Eliason and the good folks @Comcastcares were trying to figure out how to get my internet connection working, but having little luck.
By Sunday afternoon, the great '08 Ice Storm was looking less like an adventure, and more like an episode of Survivor. Friends of mine with a small child calledand asked if they could move in. I of course said yes. I was heading up to Berlin for the week, so that freed up an extra warm bed. I left them my half-decorated tree, a full generator, a working fridge and a roaring woodstove and headed north.
The devastation in the rest of the state was apparent all the way up Rte 16 -- trees bent over, ice gluing their branches to the ground in perfect arches, It was an unusually dark trip until I hit the Conway area. Then, suddenly, everyting was back to back to normal. By 8 pm I was in Berlin, with a load of laundry happily chugging away, and my laptop greedily gulping the internet connection. So now I'm sorting thru 187 missing email messages, reassuring the rest of the world that yes, I'm okay, but lots and lots of my fellow New Hampshire residents are still very miserable.